While Oak Bay is one of the most desirable places in the world to live, deferred financial and infrastructure issues mean a new, thoughtful, and comprehensive strategy is needed to make our community viable into the future.
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In addition to the financial and infrastructure problems, our community has (despite close to 0% growth), faced a number of contentious and divisive developments: denial of the Oak Bay Lodge redevelopment, approval of a larger luxury condo across the street, and the decline of a smaller condo application all highlight highly inconsistent development decisions. Heritage homes demolished instead of repurposed and affordable housing options sitting in undefined limbo are symptoms of an unclear community plan.
The resulting uncertainty for homeowners, renters, developers, and neighbours is creating division, escalating development costs, creating funding shortfalls, and stifling our ability to be a viable home for the elderly and young alike.
Four more years of the current lack of focus will put us even farther behind. It's time for some thoughtful action to build on our great legacy and ensure we leave a viable community for our children. As part of my Mayoral Campaign, I am proposing a four-pillar foundation for our community's future.
At its core, my four-pillar approach is designed to bring consistency, sustainability, and vibrancy to Oak Bay. The four pillars, which form the foundation of my priorities are:
PLAN | FUND | BUILD | FOSTER
These are distinct, but interlinked pillars that drive to a single goal:
a better future for our community.
PLAN: It is time to take the vague wording of the Official Community Plan (OCP), and turn it into clear language that defines the type, location, and size of new housing and commercial options. A proper Community Development Plan (CDP), developed in consultation with residents, will create a path for growth, identifying the location, massing, and regulation of development. It will address secondary suites, duplexes, townhomes, apartments, commercial buildings and other land use. It will guide transportation and environmental best practices. It will enable the use of Development Cost Charges (as allowed under the Local Government Act) so larger developments can help fund needed infrastructure improvements, parks, or other community amenities.
FUND: Oak Bay is facing a large unfunded infrastructure deficit worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while total costs to homeowners are already growing at 2 to 5 times inflation. To make smart financial decisions we need to consider budgets in the context of the total financial load of taxes, utilities, sewer, and regional services. In order to maximize the benefit of all taxes, fees, and regional costs collected by Oak Bay, those costs need to be more transparent and decisions need to:
minimize the long term costs to our community
be organized in ways that maximize grant or other partnership opportunities
accurately reflect the total cost increases to residents
ensure money is spent on infrastructure replacement, not emergency repairs
Small improvements to financing rates, borrowing terms, or project improvements make a large difference when spending hundreds of millions of dollars. To help, the CDP will allow for local improvement payments, prioritized projects, and the ability to access large infrastructure grants from other levels of government.
BUILD: Oak Bay needs to roll out significant infrastructure projects: an intelligent approach to maximize investment is required, and can be broken down into four rules.
Let engineering drive the design. Most wasteful projects get that way from politicians directing engineering decisions. We need to let the experts determine the best solutions based on long term costs and the community plan.
Don't sweat the small stuff. Staff need the authority and accountability to rapidly and efficiently patch the cracks, potholes and other small issues without overly burdensome process. Meanwhile engineering management needs to focus on strategic projects to drive smart design.
Pay for the "Ounce of Prevention." Emergency repairs can be orders-of-magnitude more expensive than a planned replacement, so priorities must be set to replace infrastructure where it is most likely to fail, and replace multiple services simultaneously where practical. This prevention model applies to all kinds of infrastructure, including foreshore erosion.
Go Big. Projects can be implemented in all sizes, but Oak Bay needs to ready infrastructure projects both large and small, to seize on opportunities for larger grants
FOSTER: Over time, the first three pillars need to be embedded into the municipal culture of Oak Bay. Working with the Chief Administrative officer, this means supporting staff in making independent decisions, establishing clear rules for the development of the community, celebrating initiative, keeping process light, working as a team, and focusing on results. Everyone from front-line workers to senior staff to Council need to be comfortable assessing data, making the best decision possible, moving forward, and using lessons learned to better inform the next decision. We must also better incorporate the knowledge and experience of our residents in decision making.
Leadership and Stewardship are needed now. A new energy is needed to focus on building a community as viable for our children and grandchildren as it is for us. It's going to take a lot of hard work and attention to detail to get it right, but the effort will be worth it.